Cadmium and zinc tolerance were examined in populations of Silene paradoxa, one from uncontaminated calcareous soil (CVD) and one from a mine tailing (FC) (Cd < 1-15 ppm, Zn 400-1300 ppm, pH 2-6). The mine population exhibited extremely high Zn and Cd tolerance levels, although the degrees of Cd and Zn enrichment relatively low at the population site. Cd and Zn hypertolerance in FC were associated with reduced rates of accumulation of these metals, both in roots and shoots (Cd), or exclusively in shoots (Zn). However, exclusion potentially explained only a minor part of the superior tolerance in FC. Cd hypertolerance in FC was associated with decreased, rather than enhanced phytochelatin accumulation. The remarkably high levels of Cd and Zn hypertolerance in FC might relate to the low soil pH, due to oxidation of sulphide minerals, and the absence of soil organic matter at the FC site. © 2008 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.